Food Science: Cooking with Marinades

To marinate or not to marinate? That is the question!

We hear a lot of differing opinions about whether marinating meat before grilling it helps or hinders, adds flavor or detracts.

What's your opinion? Hear ours after the jump...

Marinades are most commonly some form of acidic liquid like vinegar, wine, or even yogurt combined with salt, pepper, and herbs for flavor. Similar to brining, the fibers on the outside surface meat get broken down by the acid in the marinade. This makes the meat more moist and tender when it's cooked.

As the acids are working on the surface tissues, flavors also get infused into the meat. Salty marinades also help to move flavors into the interior of the meat.

There are a few draw backs. Marinades work on meat very slowly, which means that flavors can become concentrated on the surface and give the meat a sour flavor. Also, if meat is left in a marinade for too long, the surface can become mushy and unappealing when cooked.

The solution to the first problem is to cut meat into smaller pieces to increase the surface area. Marinades work best for kebobs and thinner cuts like skirt steak.

Good quality steak meat only needs to be marinated for a few hours at most. Since this meat is very tender to begin with, the marinade is more for flavor than it is to tenderize the meat.

Tougher cuts from the shoulder or rump areas are more fibrous and can be marinated for longer--several hours or overnight. Grassfed beef and lamb also do well when marinated for a little longer.

So does marinating make a difference? Yes, we think so!

Do you use marinades in your cooking and grilling? What's your favorite recipe?!

Related: Grilled Mint Chicken

(Image: Flickr member D'Arcy Norman licensed under Creative Commons)